Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Len Blum: Irreverent Marxist Leg-Puller

Len Blum is a man with an impressive screenwriting resumé. Not only was he responsible for the writing behind the Harold Ramis directorial/star vehicle, Stripes, but he also wrote what is believed by many to be Steve Guttenberg’s finest moment and the quintessential summer camp movie, Meatballs. Contrary to popular critical belief, I did not believe that Blum’s time had passed, that he had reached his peak. I felt that Blum was simply gearing up, biding his time until he could really let loose with a true screenwriting gem. And, I’m happy to say, I was quite right.
For it is Blum who is the driving force behind the single most important piece of cinema to be released in the past three years. The film is called Private Parts, and it goes far beyond even what I might reasonably have expected from the man I am touting as this generation’s most talented writer, in any field.
To the casual observer, Private Parts would appear to be a simple biopic of a loudmouthed egomaniac disc jockey, going by the name of Howard Stern. However, if one is au fait with Blum and his modus operandi, it becomes obvious that there is much more at work here. Blum, who railed against the oppressive dictates of the military, and military-mindedness prevalent in the modern world, in Stripes, could not simply let this film rest as a morality tale. No, layers of meaning and understanding are where Blum’s personal politics lie. And it is in this way that he has triumphed with Private Parts.
The sublime beauty of this film is in the overarching message which Blum couches in obscenities and references to lesbians. The crass, juvenile, penis and fart-related material disguises, or in fact accentuates, Blum’s elegantly constructed vignette, which is, in fact, a scathing critique of the moribund self-opportunism which dominates much of the social landscape of late capitalism. In portraying Stern as simply a self-serving, self-aggrandising American, Blum says to his audience: “Look! See what you’ve become? Nothing more than a ratings-chasing white trash scumbag, laughing audibly at your countrymen’s gullibility and ultimate stupidity. Stern may be dumb, but you, dear viewer, are an imbecile.”
Stressing this point is Blum’s early characterisation of Stern as a Weird Al Yankovic lookalike. This comparison is simple, and yet amazingly effective. (I think it is here, in these small moments of inspiration, that Blum’s genius truly lies.) Yankovic is a subverter and regurgitator of popular culture, selling to his audience that which they have already heard, but changing it slightly. Blum’s admiration for Yankovic has been well documented in the past, so I won’t dwell on it here; suffice it for me say that there has been a Weird Al reference in every single piece of Blum’s work to date.
Stern’s real life radio audience have already heard of his exploits with a naked woman in the radio studio - Blum cunningly changes this scenario only slightly by introducing Leslie Nielsen’s character as an interpreter for the deaf naked woman. Yes, that’s right, deaf. There is no end to Blum’s cheeky, irreverent Marxist leg-pulling on show. The woman is deaf because it is her nudity which is the essential element of the audience’s participation, and not Stern’s charisma in encouraging the aforesaid nudity. The nudity is an end to which capitalism has no means - the residents of the modern world desire nudity, but do not possess adequate tools with which to express this desire. The failure of late capitalism is in its inability to accept this paradox.
The appearance of AC/DC, then, performing a song other than ‘Who Made Who’ at a Stern celebration concert, exemplifies this point. If Angus and co. had performed that particular track, its poignancy and applicability would have become overbearing and misplaced within the film’s broader cultural context. ‘Who Made Who’ would have said to the audience: “Are we responsible for creating Howard Stern? Or are Howard stern and the forces behind him capable of creating us?” Instead, Blum opts to write in ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ - once again, creating a diversion from the real issues, but in doing so, bringing the point home even more strongly than if it had been tackled head on.
In Len Blum, then, we have a screenwriter working beyond the call of duty. Operating, in fact, above the levels of the film’s target audience and playing it up, on a grand scale, for the critics and intelligentsia. If disappointed, or disillusioned, fear not - this is a perfectly natural reaction. Feel safe in the knowledge, however, that there are those, who you may not know, but exist nonetheless, who will savour this experience for what it truly is - pure cinematic genius.Bravo, Len Blum; bravo.


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